ARC Book Review: Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel And The Pulse Of History

Mademoiselle CoverBook: Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel And The Pulse Of History by Rhonda Garelick

Expected Publication is September 30, 2014 by Random House|Expected Number Of Pages: 608

Where I Got It: from, which hasn’t influenced my review in any way.  Promise!

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-fiction/Biography/Fashion

You can find Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel And The Pulse Of History on goodreads

Goodreads Summary: 

Certain lives are at once so exceptional, and yet so in step with their historical moments, that they illuminate cultural forces far beyond the scope of a single person. Such is the case with Coco Chanel, whose life offers one of the most fascinating tales of the twentieth century—throwing into dramatic relief an era of war, fashion, ardent nationalism, and earth-shaking change—here brilliantly treated, for the first time, with wide-ranging and incisive historical scrutiny.

Coco Chanel transformed forever the way women dressed. Her influence remains so pervasive that to this day we can see her afterimage a dozen times while just walking down a single street: in all the little black dresses, flat shoes, costume jewelry, cardigan sweaters, and tortoiseshell eyeglasses on women of every age and background. A bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume is sold every three seconds. Arguably, no other individual has had a deeper impact on the visual aesthetic of the world. But how did a poor orphan become a global icon of both luxury and everyday style? How did she develop such vast, undying influence? And what does our ongoing love of all things Chanel tell us about ourselves? These are the mysteries that Rhonda K. Garelick unravels in Mademoiselle.

Raised in rural poverty and orphaned early, the young Chanel supported herself as best she could. Then, as an uneducated nineteen-year-old café singer, she attracted the attention of a wealthy and powerful admirer and parlayed his support into her own hat design business. For the rest of Chanel’s life, the professional, personal, and political were interwoven; her lovers included diplomat Boy Capel; composer Igor Stravinsky; Romanov heir Grand Duke Dmitri; Hugh Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster; poet Pierre Reverdy; a Nazi officer; and several women as well. For all that, she was profoundly alone, her romantic life relentlessly plagued by abandonment and tragedy.

Chanel’s ambitions and accomplishments were unparalleled. Her hat shop evolved into a clothing empire. She became a noted theatrical and film costume designer, collaborating with the likes of Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, and Luchino Visconti. The genius of Coco Chanel, Garelick shows, lay in the way she absorbed the zeitgeist, reflecting it back to the world in her designs and in what Garelick calls “wearable personality”—the irresistible and contagious style infused with both world history and Chanel’s nearly unbelievable life saga. By age forty, Chanel had become a multimillionaire and a household name, and her Chanel Corporation is still the highest-earning privately owned luxury goods manufacturer in the world.

In Mademoiselle, Garelick delivers the most probing, well-researched, and insightful biography to date on this seemingly familiar but endlessly surprising figure—a work that is truly both a heady intellectual study and a literary page-turner.

What I Thought:

When I saw this biography on netgalley, I was intrigued because I know the name, but not the person behind the name. Unfortunately, I didn’t like Mademoiselle as much as I thought.

It was very interesting to how she got into fashion, and what her early life was like.  It did get very repetitive at times- it was tiring to read that Chanel wanted to re-write her own life over and over and over.  Mademoiselle was very detailed and had a lot of information- too much information for me.  There were times when I skimmed the book (mostly at the end of the book), just because I couldn’t take in any more details.  For me, there was so much detail that nothing really stood out to me. Sometimes it felt like names and events were thrown at me.  And it felt much more like we got all of the different people and events that had an influence on Chanel personally and professionally, and not a lot about Chanel.  I know that they all had a big impact on her life, but I wish I walked away with a better sense of Chanel.

I did like that there were photos and quotes from Chanel herself scattered throughout the book.  It made Chanel much more real to see her own words throughout the book.  It also seemed like a very objective look at Chanel’s life, but as a result, it seemed a little dry, and I would have liked the little something extra that seemed missing.  I do think anyone who’s curious about Chanel and anyone who’s into fashion will like this book.

Let’s Rate It:

Mademoiselle got a little too detailed and was a little too repetitive at times, which made it okay for me.  It’s still an interesting look at the person who started this huge and iconic company.  Mademoiselle gets 2 stars.

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